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Wrong Direction: Former One Direction singer under fire for Saudi Arabia concert

British singer Liam Payne has been scrutinised by social media users for going ahead with a concert in Saudi Arabia despite concerns over human rights

British singer Liam Payne has been criticised on social media for his planned performance in Saudi Arabia next week.

Activists, social media users and rights groups are calling on him to use his global influence and platform to cancel the 18 July performance and stand in solidarity with people in Saudi Arabia.

The former One Direction singer is coming under mounting pressure to rethink his performance, as the latest artist to be criticised for performing in the kingdom despite its record of human rights violations.

Payne will be performing at the Jeddah World Fest, which is funded and authorised by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS.

Human Rights Foundation, a non-profit organisation, issued a letter addressed to Payne, urging him to cancel his performance and highlighting several cases of human rights abuses in the kingdom.

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“Saudi Arabia is also among the worst violators of basic individual rights, and in particular the right to freedom of opinion and expression…for decades the Saudi government has harassed, arrested and sentenced dissidents violating their freedom of expression, opinion and assembly,” the letter read.

“If you move forward with this performance for a festival sponsored by the crown prince, you will be in league with the people who respond to freedom of expression and thought with murder.”

Popstar Nicki Minaj, who was set to perform at the festival, cancelled her performance earlier this month due to concerns over human rights.

The US rapper told the Associated Press in a statement that she came to the decision "after careful reflection".

"While I want nothing more than to bring my show to fans in Saudi Arabia, after better educating myself on the issues, I believe it is important for me to make clear my support for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community and freedom of expression," Minaj said.

Social media users have urged Payne to reconsider his performance.

On Sunday, Korean superband BTS also announced their upcoming performance in Saudi Arabia, similarly raising concerns from people online.

Adam Coogle, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Middle East Eye that Saudi Arabia was attempting to build an entertainment industry in a bid to improve its international reputation.  

"Saudi Arabia is attempting to change the country’s image in part by developing an entertainment industry and hosting concerts by well-known artists, but no public concert can paper over the dramatic decrease of space for free expression in Saudi Arabia since Mohammad bin Salman became crown prince," said Coogle.

Efforts to “modernise” the kingdom led by MBS have been criticised, as rights groups have said that they help conceal abuses by the kingdom’s rulers.

Bin Salman has come under increasing scrutiny since the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi as well as the torture of women’s rights defenders.

Last month, a UN report found that there was "credible evidence" that MBS was behind Khashoggi's murder.

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